Indian train network makes history by employing transgender workers

Kochi : An initiative offering jobs to a handful of members of Kerala’s hijra community aims to tackle prejudice and bring transgender people into the mainstream

They used to beg on India’s train network, but this month, for the first time, transgender women will have proper jobs, serving passengers and selling tickets in the south Indian city of Kochi.

In an effort to integrate trans people into Indian society, Kochi’s metro has hired 23 members of the hijra community, who will start working behind ticket counters and on housekeeping teams before the end of this month.

The new jobs are an unprecedented initiative in India, where the trans and third gender community is mocked and isolated. Though trans women have been given jobs in the past, the majority have to resort to sex work or begging to survive.

Rashmi CR, spokeswoman for Kochi Metro Rail, said the new appointments were part of a wider initiative to make the trains more inclusive. “We want the metro to be not just a means of transport, but also a livelihood improvement project,” she said.

“People don’t interact with trans people. They live separately from society, they are not given jobs, their rights are not respected. We want to bring them into the mainstream by ensuring that people interact with them every day – on their way to work, for example.”

The new recruits have already had training in customer care and taken classes in confidence improvement.

“Kochi metro is the first company in India to accept us. It is a huge achievement for us,” said Vincy, one of those newly employed by Kochi metro. “I feel very comfortable there. The other workers know how to respect me because Kochi metro is recognising us.”

Vincy will start work on a ticket counter in a couple of weeks, and is thrilled: “Trans people don’t get work, not even in big multinational companies, IT firms, not in government jobs, nothing. Even when we do get jobs, we are often made fun of. If I work in an office, the other workers for example will make fun of how I walk like a woman. I will be the laughing stock,” she said.

“I hope it will be in all the newspapers and on TV channels and other companies will take notice of it and start hiring trans people.”

The lack of employment opportunities for trans people, Rashmi said, happens for reasons other than prejudice. “A lot of them have criminal records because they have no choice but to do sex work. Plus many of them have never had the opportunity to go to school, so they don’t have any qualifications. You need to have some level of education to get a front-end job but many of these people have been denied that opportunity.”

The palm-lined, tourist hotspot of Kerala, which includes Kochi, is much more liberal and has a higher standard of education than many Indian states, said Rashmi. She added that she hoped the company would soon bring more trans recruits on to the staff.

Source:  The Guardian

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